The first time I ever saw a Saint Bernard "in the flesh" was on an old dirt road in the middle of nowhere. He was a beautiful rough coat male that, at the time, seemed enormous. I made my husband Michael stop the car so that I could stare in amazement at this giant creature. I wanted to get out of the car to get a closer look at the Saint but as I cautiously opened the door he panicked and fled. Disappointed, we continued to drive but I couldn't get my mind off that dog. Michael and I agreed that someday we would own such a dog, but for the present I would have to be content to go shopping at the mall.
Once we got to the mall, I insisted (as usual) on going to the pet store. As we walked through the door I couldn't believe what I saw. A tiny, fluffy miniature version of the dog I had seen earlier that day. We asked to see the puppy and were delighted when he bounded out of his cage and slobbered us with kisses. We both fell in love with him immediately but the asking price kept us from making an impulse purchase. We were told that all the puppies for sale came from local breeders and were sold with health certificates. However, when I asked about his papers I was told that all registrations were kept at the general office (this was part of a large chain) and were only sent once the dog had been sold. We left the store with visions of dog ownership and promised ourselves to come back in a few days. Maybe by then he would be sold and we wouldn't have to decide whether or not to buy him.
For the next several days, every time Mike and I looked at each other, one of us would say "puppy, puppy, puppy" in a very low, whispered voice. The decision was finally made when I came home from the grocery store with a bag of "puppy-chow". We went back to the mall to see if the puppy was still there. He was, and we wanted him. Since it was the day before Thanksgiving, we reasoned that it just wouldn't be fair for him to spend such a special holiday alone in a pet store. And so began our adventure with Saints.
Moose, as my dad later named him, was a wonderful dog with one exception. When his papers finally arrived several weeks after we purchased him, I discovered that the "local breeder" the pet store had promised was in fact from Iowa (I live in Massachusetts)! With a feeling of foreboding I realized that we had bought a "puppy mill" dog. I tried to put this fact in the back of my mind as I enjoyed Moose's puppyhood. He was a happy, playful animal, typical of any healthy puppy. But as he grew into an awkward teenager the problems began. He had a very bad case of "hot spots" (biting an itchy spot so much that it begins to bleed). At first we attributed the hot spots to dry skin and tried the usual remedies. But when that didn't work and he developed trouble with keeping his food down we took Moose to the vet. After numerous tests it was discovered that Moose suffered from an imbalance in the liver. Our vet attributed these problems to Moose's puppy mill background. He was given medication and put on a special rice and noodle diet. After several months he recovered but we were warned to expect reoccurrences from time to time.
The following year, with Moose's condition under control, we decided to purchase a second Saint. This time, we declared, we would do it right. We searched out what we thought was a reputable breeder and even got a reference from someone who had purchased a dog from them. We made an appointment to visit the kennel and a few days later made the two hour trek. When we arrived at the kennel we were told that the owner had been called out of town but that we could still look at the dogs. There were only two puppies available and we checked them out carefully. Both were rough-coats, one a female and the other a male. After playing with them for quite a while we decided on the female. Michael already had a name for her - Bounce. It seemed to fit her since she was so full of life. We were told that we would have to come back to pay for her since the owner took care of all the paper work but that the puppy would be held for us. Before leaving, we asked to see the rest of the kennel. We were given a tour of the facilities and played with the full-grown dogs. Towards the end of the tour I spotted a beautiful short-haired puppy in a very large cage all by herself. The kennel worker explained that this puppy was being kept as a show dog and future breeding animal since it was of top quality and was definitely not for sale. As we left the room I kept looking at the puppy who seemed so lonesome in such a big cage with no friends to play with.
Before leaving the kennel, we were told to call the owner that night to make arrangements to pick up our puppy. When Michael called he was told that the puppy would be ready to go the next day. Since I had some errands to run, Michael made the trip by himself.
Several hours later, as I saw Michael's car pull into the driveway, I excitedly ran out of the house to meet the new member of our family. Expecting to see the ball of fluff that we had picked out a few days earlier, I was quite surprised to find instead the very fine, short-haired puppy that I had seen in the cage by herself. I'm not really sure if I was disappointed at not getting the puppy we had chosen or happy that we actually had a top quality show dog. When I asked Michael what had happened, he explained that when he got to the breeder's he was told that the puppy we had picked out had been sold! He was furious and let the owner know it. After a brief "discussion" the owner reluctantly agreed to sell her potential show/breeding puppy. As we talked, the puppy sniffed the grass and then just sat quietly by my side. She seemed quite shy and frightened so we brought her into the house, introduced her to her crate and sat back as she got accustomed to her new home. Moose was quite insulted since he was relegated to another room for the first few hours. As we watched our new puppy I tried to think of a name for her. As I thought about this Michael must have been reading my mind since he announced that her name would be "Bounce". I quickly objected, complaining that Bounce was the name we had given the other puppy and this dog certainly did not act like a "Bounce". "But", Michael retorted "I really like the name." Looking at the puppy I had trouble thinking of her as a "Bounce" but with Michael's insistence, the name stuck. As we were discussing her new name, Bounce ventured out of her crate and began sniffing her new surroundings. She came over to us and discovered my shoelaces. She took a cautious sniff and then began to chew on them. Before long Bounce was pulling on them and snarling at them as though she was a vicious attack dog fighting off an evil intruder. Her true intentions, however, were given away by her tail which was wagging so fast that it almost knocked her over. From my shoelaces Bounce moved on to my feet, my pants and, as I was obliged to sit on the floor, my shirt. When she reached my face our new puppy happily plastered me with very wet kisses. I hugged her and plastered her with somewhat drier kisses.
As our play continued Moose reminded us that we had forgotten about him. We could hear him whimpering from the other room and so decided to introduce them. I held Bounce while Michael brought Moose into the room. Moose immediately came over and smelled Bounce from one end to the other. Satisfied that this new creature was not a threat, Moose went over to Michael for a scratch. I let Bounce go and she bounded over to Moose. It was clear that she wanted to play and had decided that Moose would be her new playmate. With a herculean effort Bounce jumped up and tried to grab Moose's ear but fell quite short of her intended victim and plopped onto the floor. She quickly got up and made several more attempts to grab Moose's ear. Upon realizing that it was futile, Bounce spotted the dog tags hanging from her new buddy's collar. These were within her reach and she grabbed them and started snarling and pulling. Moose, meanwhile, just sat there looking a bit dejected.
Over the next several days Bounce came out of her shell and was soon the most hyperactive, happy puppy that I had ever seen. Her favorite game, the "Pulling of the Dog Tags" eventually developed into the "Lead Moose all over the House" game. Poor Moose willingly obliged, up to a point. When he became tired of this silly game he would defiantly lie down, adding a big grunt for effect. Once he did this there was nothing that Bounce could do to budge him (although she would try her very best). Our new puppy was so energetic that Michael declared "She has more BOUNCE to the ounce than any dog I have ever seen".
Wanting to do everything right with our new puppy, I enrolled the two of us in Obedience class. Our first class was a bit intimidating as there were well over twenty dogs in one room, each vying for affection and not listening to a thing that was said. But as things settled down over the next several weeks Bounce became the star of the class. I was told by my instructor that Saints were notoriously lazy and that I would really have to get after Bounce to keep her going. But he didn't know her like I did. She proved again and again that "Bounce" was a very appropriate name for her!
We practiced every day and it showed. While others (who privately admitted to not practicing very much) stumbled over the simplest of commands, Bounce and I executed difficult commands with ease. Our instructor gave each of us a pocket-size daily calendar complete with a cover ad for his school. I decided to make use of it and turned it into a diary where I could record our daily progress. This diary became a very useful tool as I could carefully follow our training and spend extra time on anything that we consistently had trouble with. I would recommend a similar journal to anyone seriously interested in training their dog.
The day of our "Final Exam" finally came and I am happy to report that Bounce and I passed with flying colors. We received the highest score in the class and our instructor managed to convince us to try a local "match" that was coming up in a few weeks. Bounce and I got up early every day to practice in the hopes that we wouldn't look too foolish at the match. As we practiced our recalls, I had visions of Bounce heading off in the other direction as an audience of hundreds laughed at our plight. I even started to dream about our debut. One night I would dream of my wonder-dog and I achieving glory while the next night I would dream of utter failure.
Finally, the day of the match came. Bounce hoped out of the car with her tail wagging furiously. Our friend Joan, whom I met at class, came with her dog Maggie, just to cheer us on. The two dogs were clearly delighted to see each other and they played until it was our turn before the judge. Bounce, every eager to please, tried so hard to do everything right. And in fact, she did. I was jubilant as we came out of the ring and was unable to hide it. I gave Bounce a huge, smothering hug and told her how good she was. All that was left to do was the long sit and down that would be done as a group after everyone had gone individually. I figured we "had it made" since this had always been Bounce's favorite part of class because she used it as a time to nap. She was so good at it, in fact, that I rarely practiced it.
When it was time for everyone to return to the ring, Bounce and I confidently entered and lined up. I had a somewhat cocky, self-assured attitude that told the world "We've got this thing wrapped up!" When the command was finally given to sit, Bounce sat like a statue. She was great. The time passed quickly and soon we moved on to the down command. Bounce went down with a plop and began her usual nap routine. But as she lay there something began to happen. Bounce realized that there were all sorts of strange new smells that just had to be checked out. As my eyes popped out of my head in disbelief, Bounce inched her way forward until she was sniffing at my feet. As I inerdly cringed with disappointment, I was told to put my dog back in place. I did so, but after about 30 seconds she began to inch forward again. Ugh. My visions of glory were dashed and I was quickly brought back to earth, my cocky attitude gone. After what seemed like hours, the long down was complete and we were told to leave the ring. After receiving my dismal score, the judge came over to me and told me that she thought Bounce had done really well for her first match and that she would make a great obedience dog "with a little work".
Although we continued to take obedience classes and attend matches, Bounce and I spent most of our time just playing. I have never been closer to any dog and I think Bounce knew it. She would come with me when I rode my horses, quietly following me, staying about 20 feet behind me. We would spend lazy afternoons in the woods, share a lunch, stop at a pond for a splash and enjoy a horse vs. dog race before returning home. We took long walks and she even helped me with my gardening (usually by stepping on whatever I had just planted!). If I sat on the ground all 120 pounds of my now full-grown Saint would pounce on me and lavish me with big, wet kisses. The more I pet her the more attention she wanted as she got very playful and would switch into hyperactive, happy dog mode. It looked as if she would never outgrow her puppy personality since she still had more "Bounce to the Ounce" than any dog I had ever met. And of course she slept in our bed. Her favorite spot was on my side of the bed, curled up snugly next to me, with her head firmly planted on my pillow.
It was because of our closeness that I worried so much when my daughter Holly was born. I was afraid that Bounce would become very jealous of this new family member and the attention I gave her.
Fortunately, Bounce's loving personality won out over jealously. When we brought Holly home from the hospital, we immediately introduced her to the dogs. Moose was afraid of her and stayed away. Bounce, however, got very excited. She wanted to play with this new person. She wagged her tail in delight and sniffed Holly several times. The following day I brought the dogs into Holly's room so they could get better acquainted. Moose looked cautiously in the crib at the sleeping baby, not sure of what it was. After about 30 seconds Holly moved and Michael and I couldn't help but laugh as we watched Moose jump high into the air in astonishment. Bounce, however, eagerly approached the crib, sniffed Holly and once again wagged her tail furiously.
As time went by and Holly grew, Moose slowly came to realize that Holly was in fact a person and someone to play with. Bounce, on the other hand, adored Holly from the beginning and put up with so much from her. One day, while Bounce was trying to sleep, Holly came over to her and discovered that Bounce had several little "handles" on her stomach (her teats) and that they were fun to pull! Before I could rescue my dog, Holly had gotten several good tugs in. Bounce just laid very still and wagged her tail! When Holly started to walk, she used Bounce as a balance, grabbing her collar in much the same way that Bounce had grabbed Moose's collar when she was a puppy. All the while Moose watched from his corner with a glint of "ha, ha, it's your turn now!" in his eyes.
Several months ago my love for Bounce got tested in a most unexpected way. I was taking Moose to the Vet's for his annual check-up. Bounce really wanted to come, but I insisted that she stay home and I shut the door. Apparently, I did not shut it tight and Bounce somehow managed to open it. As I walked toward the van with Moose I saw Bounce bound out of the house in gleeful anticipation of a car ride. As she attempted to rush past me I grabbed her collar and her head collided with my knee. I screamed and fell to the ground in excruciating pain and watched Bounce, completely unaware of what she had done, turn towards me for a game of "You can't catch me". Michael rushed out of the house to see what had happened. I couldn't put any weight on my leg and Michael insisted that it was broken and that we should go to the hospital. I refused and, as he caught Bounce, I hobbled over to the van and somehow drove to the Vet's with my good leg. Realizing that I was in pain, my vet saw Moose and I right away. After giving Moose a clean bill of health, my vet told me to go to the Emergency room. Still in pain, I decided that he was right. I dropped Moose off and rushed to the hospital, only to wait four hours before someone saw me. Thinking that I just had a badly bruised knee, I was shocked to find out that I actually had a broken knee.
When I returned home Bounce greeted me at the door with her happy, play-with-me attitude. Looking into her big, droopy, Saint eyes, I couldn't get mad at her. She didn't mean to hurt me, it was just a freak accident. And besides, I was sure that I would get lots of giggles at work when I told them what happened.
As Bounce approaches mid-life, I love her more than ever. She can certainly be a bit overwhelming at times with her constant desire for attention as her 120 pound body tries to force you into a game of "pet me forever." But her gentleness towards Holly and the rest of us, as well as her complete loyalty always win out. She'll always be a very special dog with "More Bounce to the Ounce!"